British firms face up to a new business world

Brexit, flexible space, technology… All have big implications for British businesses and their real estate – and all were big talking points at the CBI’s annual conference.

November 23, 2018

Brexit may be top of the agenda right now for UK-based businesses but it’s not the only thing on their minds as they look to the future.

Changing space requirements in the workplace and new technologies transforming established ways of working are also disrupting long-standing business models and requiring companies to adapt if they want to thrive in today’s fast-paced business world.

The annual Confederation of British Industry Conference, held in London on 19 November, brought together business leaders, politicians and industry experts to join the debate on the issues facing companies including the UK’s new relationship with the world and next generation business.

Unsurprisingly, the current political uncertainty gripping British and EU leaders surrounding Brexit and whether a withdrawal agreement can be struck got the greatest amount of airtime.

“What business needs now is clarity and certainty as to the way forward,” JLL’s UK CEO Chris Ireland said of the current Brexit debate.

The UK remains a hugely attractive market for overseas and domestic occupiers and investors. Ireland added: “We have seen the property economy perform really strongly in the UK this year, both from an occupational perspective, especially around offices, alternatives and logistics, which have continued to make very big statements and we have also seen that from investors.”

Looking beyond Brexit

At the CBI conference, Prime Minister Theresa May, addressed business leaders about draft withdrawal proposals currently being discussed in UK and EU circles and told them they must “play their part” to make post-Brexit Britain a success. While the CBI’s director general Carolyn Fairbairn believes May’s deal is a significantly preferable alternative to “stepping off that cliff” if no deal is reached, the CBI has its own vision for the UK’s business future based on a new joint venture between business and government

“I think business wants a couple of things from the Brexit deal, namely frictionless trade, which is of course vital for the economy, ambitious access for services, a say over those future rules and a transition period which removes the cliff-edge risk for business” says Polly Haydn Jones, the CBI’s Senior EU Campaigns Adviser.

To ensure the UK economy is match-fit for the future, the CBI wants to see the UK government focussing on the key drivers of domestic competitiveness. It says this can be achieved by creating a globally competitive tax environment, building a workforce with the right skills for the future, establishing a climate for cutting-edge innovation, building world-class infrastructure and ensuring the UK is open to global markets to allow Britain to prosper.

What are the opportunities in flexible space?

Yet Brexit is far from the only challenge heralding big change for UK businesses. As today’s companies aim to become more agile, technology advances and their workforce becomes more mobile, their space requirements are changing fast.

Flexible space is transforming the office market. Some companies and landlords have been quick to respond, creating high-quality, amenity-rich workspaces that promote a sense of community and encourage collaboration. JLL’s research shows it is set to grow by up to 30 per cent a year over the next five years.

There are also big implications for companies leasing space, developers building space, landlords designing space, investors choosing the right space and the ramifications are also being felt away from the office.

“I think the ability for organizations to change the amount of space that they are occupying on a fairly short term and regular basis to adapt their real estate footprint to the needs of the organization much more dynamically, it’s incredibly exciting,” says Tom Carroll, Head of EMEA Corporate Research at JLL.

“It’s also creating a lot of opportunity to attract and retain talent, new types of space are encouraging innovation, enhanced amenities and services for employees are all trends that we are seeing,” he added.

Will tech continue to be a disruptive force?

The unprecedented pace of technological change is placing companies under pressure to understand and adopt innovations that will help unlock future growth. Carroll says the impact of technology is being felt across all aspects of corporate life more now than ever before.

“It’s impacting companies’ operations but it’s also impacting their real estate. We are seeing technology and digitisation impact the workplace in a number of ways – better data and analytics, an enhanced user experience through a more digitally enabled workplace,” Carroll adds.

For UK firms, it’s undoubtedly a time of change but it’s never been more key to adapt to stay competitive in a global business world.

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